The 2019 United Nations Global Compact—Accenture Strategy CEO Study on Sustainability offers a candid look from CEOs at the opportunities and challenges to sustainability since the launch of the Global Goals in 2015. While CEOs acknowledge the opportunity for competitive advantage through sustainability efforts and report pockets of progress, they recognize that the business community could—and should—be making a far greater contribution to achieving a sustainable global economy by 2030.
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In fact, the global community has reached a clear inflection point on the journey to 2030. CEOs agree that business must play a more critical role in advancing the Global Goals. They point to the barriers that are preventing business from doing more and the enablers that would unlock the potential of the private sector.
Time for a reality check
In 2016, business leaders’ attitudes toward sustainability reached a peak as CEOs saw opportunity to recalibrate their sustainability efforts in line with global milestones. This is not exactly the case three years later. Despite clear opportunity, CEOs in 2019 acknowledge that business execution is not measuring up to the size of the challenge of the Global Goals—or to their previous ambition.
Anxious for a course correction, CEOs are renewing calls for the business community to step up impact. In fact, 71 percent of CEOs believe that—with increased commitment and action—business can play a critical role in contributing to the Global Goals.
While there has not been as much progress as CEOs would like, they believe there is real opportunity for the global business community to embrace the Global Goals to drive growth, efficiency, reputation and innovation. Leading companies are already doing these things to transform their organizations.
However, transformation is difficult. Economic constraints and competing priorities are common barriers to overcome—and CEOs see a challenging decade ahead in light of geopolitical, technological and socioeconomic uncertainty. These forces and stakeholder expectations are driving business leaders to go further and be more proactive on the sustainability agenda.